He looked at her plants and realized they were dying. Had been for some time, but he only really noticed today. They were not supposed to be under his care, yet he felt his expected neglect was responsible for their decay. Since the beginning they had been doing fine, better than the ones they could see on the other balconies, their limbs wrapped around the railing and reaching out like fingers through prison bars attempting to touch the sunlight. But now the plants' green had turned to a yellow and white. The leaves now sagged and the stems had loosened their grip around the railing.
The oldest chimney in the world lived below their apartment. A few days ago he had seen the chimney out on the postage stamp sized lawn in front of the building pointing up at the balcony above theirs and spewing smoke from her stack, complaining she had been splashed with a thick stream that came from there. That was the first time he saw the wet concrete surrounding the plants and the slow drip directly above them.
The balcony above their apartment was not as used as theirs. From the sidewalk all they could see was a single potted plant against the railing in the middle of balcony. Perhaps this was where the drip was coming from, but he remembered that the chimney had said it came from the corner.
An old contractor lived above them, by himself, with a small dog. He had moved in a few weeks prior and it was a few nights ago that the sound of paws rapidly traversing the apartment's interior awoke them from their slumber. One afternoon, she came through the door after work and hung up her apron and said that she could see the small dog out on the balcony trying to push its face through the railing. It was almost 100 degrees that day and the contractor's van was not in the parking lot until almost midnight. They were able to put the pieces together as best as they could.
He looked at her plants again. The tomatoes were sagging and pale. The bell peppers had given up hope and one lay rotting in the grass below. She had wanted the tomatoes. He had wanted the bell peppers. Moving them against the corner of the balcony had been his choice.
He looked up from her plants in time to see her apron whipping behind her against the breeze as she came up the sidewalk. She looked up at him as she passed and he couldn't tell if there was a hint of a smile across her lips. She pulled back the lock and hung up her apron and untied her hair. She walked back to the bedroom without coming out to the balcony and shut the door. He looked at her as she passed and then at her plants and remembered they were dying.
Robert Kingsley is a Creative Writing graduate from the University of Mary Washington. He lives in Fredericksburg.